No 27580, 2nd Transvaal Scottish
Captured: Tobruk June 1942
Arrived in Tobruk 13th June 1942 after an exciting journey. Wondered why all the heavy traffic, Ack-Ack guns and all seemed to be going the wrong way, in other words, back the way I had come. First experience of being machine gunned from the air. My Company were out at an outpost ‘209’ but were due to be called back at any time. On the Sunday evening, the 14th, the boys were expected to leave their positions and meet transport. All day Monday small batches of the boys were arriving on foot. My Platoon were the last out and I was surprised when I found only 14 men arrived back. Spent a day or two lolling around and then we were sent out on an easy job for a week or two. Spotting mines in the harbour turned out to be the easy job. On Friday 19th we saw the Hospital Boat (one of the Castle Line) leave the harbour. The morning of the 20th broke wonderfully clear as usual but there was ‘something in the air’. It was not long before we discovered what that something was to be. About 7 in the evening we found ourselves guests of the enemy – “for you the war is over”.
We were collected, given a chance to go to our digs to collect whatever kit we required, and marched into the town. (It was here that I destroyed all my identification papers such as Drivers Licence, Birth Certificate, etc.) There was a terrific explosion on our way to the town, we all broke ranks, but were soon formed up again into fives, and on our way. The big bang turned out to be our petro reserves blown up by our Engineers. The town was full of Mark lV Tanks. We were taken to the hospital grounds where we spent a quiet night under the stars in the Court Yard. Sleep was impossible as everyone was keyed up. During the following morning we were formed up again in fives and marched to the local aerodrome. Parties were coming into the ‘drome at regular intervals and the rest of the day was spent looking around for fellows we knew. I shall always remember seeing the remnants of a Highland Regiment being marched into the ‘drome with a Piper leading. We were split up into groups of 50 and just had to trust to luck as to whether we received food, water, or whatever. Our Officers came around and spoke to us. In fact we were honoured by a visit from the great Rommel himself.
Our Officers were taken away by plane. Batches of POW’s were leaving by truck every day. Our turn arrived on Friday 26th June. Rations were issued as we got on the truck – Bully and Biscuits. How we hated the rations, but how we were to enjoy them later. Our destination was Derna, where we arrived that evening. On the morning of 5th July we were packed in a truck and on our way again. Arrived at Benghazi just about midnight after an amazing journey – Derna Pass, Timber Lands, cultivated lands of grapes, and homesteads – beautiful. The following morning we were issued with ground sheets and tried to get some sort of order. Water was again our biggest worry. One water bottle per day, with Bully and Bread our rations – the birth of the ‘Benghazi Pie’.
Very early, at about 4, on the morning of the 30th July we were marched down to the docks and put into the hold of a cargo boat. We sailed during the morning, on what, so far, was to be my worst sea voyage. All down in the hold and not even enough room to sleep lying down. Two nights of this, arriving in Brindisi about mid-day on 1st August. We were taken off on ‘lighters’ and it was there that our Battalion got split up – half being left behind.
Arrived at Bari on the morning of 2nd August after a long walk to camp. We stayed in Bari camp for 16 days and experienced the first thrill of receiving Red Cross Parcels. We were told that this was a transit camp and told that our destination was to be a propaganda camp so we were more hopeful. Once again cattle trucks with benches this time. It was wonderful to see green pastures again after our stay in the desert. We saw Mount Vesuvius in the distance and passed the outskirts of Rome. Our new camp was about 48 k’s out of the capital. We arrived at Fara Sabina about 10 in the evening on 19th August. On 31st August the first batch of Red Cross kit was issued – Battle Dress, socks, shirts, underpants, handkerchiefs, caps and greatcoats. On 21st January 1943, 700 South Africans left Fara Sabina ‘en voyage’ for Sardinia. In spite of being told by medicals not to go, I decided to forget about my boils and leave with the rest of my crowd. At about 4 that afternoon we stepped on the boat and issued with lifebelts and orders to “just make yourselves comfortable”. We sailed at 9 that evening. Next morning we arrived at Albia, north of the island, and once again it was cattle trucks with benches. Travelled all day and at about 10 that evening we arrived at Eglesias. Changed over to narrow gauge and after hanging around for hours eventually got under way, very tired of travel and anxious to get settled in our new camp. We arrived at Bachuabia early on the 23rd January 1943 – right in the middle of a coal mining area.
On 13th May we heard that Tunisia was all over. By the end of May rumours were very strong that the camp was moving. One Party left on 5th June and the other the next day for a place called San Gavino which was in the centre of the Island. After our Air Force machine gunned the local foundry, we were sent north to a place called Surran – 24th July. On the morning of 7th August we were moved to the port of Palam and at 2 in the afternoon were on our way by ferry to Corsica. We arrived at Bonafacia at 5 after a very rough crossing. Arrived at Bastia at about 1 the following morning and were put onto a boat. Arrived at Spezia at about 11 the following morning. On the 10th August we entrained again and at about 8 that evening arrived at a small village called Laterina. A 3½ hour walk and we were at our new abode ‘82’.
On the evening of the 8th September 1943 at about 9 we had news of peace. On the 12th September the Italians deserted their posts and we took over the camp. Many lads decided to make a break, but the advice was to just sit tight. Regular news services from the BBC but nothing definite as to what was going to happen to us. During the night of the 14th German guards took over. On the 17th September we had a long walk to the station. 50 to a cattle truck with no benches. By the 18th we were well up north – early evening we were at Brenner. Very early next morning we stopped at a large station called Rosenheim. Nearing mid-day another stop at Hof. We woke on the morning of 20th September to find we were in a railway siding. This was our destination, Mulberg Stalag lVB. During the day and all through the night groups were being taken into camp. A good hair crop, kit de-loused and a fine hot shower, an injection and vaccination, and we were put into barracks. On 17th November we received our first Red Cross Parcel in Germany.
On 18th November a small group of 15 were told to pack and get ready to move on. Our destination was a small village called Laumatzsch, where there was a large timber yard and saw mill. Of the 15, 10 were South African and 5 British. Christmas 1943 arrived and we had 2 issues of American parcels. Our billet was decorated with labels from tins. Mail re-addressed from Italy was coming through.
(there is then some interesting stories about work parties, visits to doctors, an intentional overdose of malaria tablets to get to a hospital for correct treatment, experience of Dresden and the famous bombing raid, the return to Stalag lVB, etc)
The 9th April 1945 sees the arrival of 12 motor trucks of food parcels. On the 12th the news is so good we have a bash. By 2 o’clock on the afternoon of the 13th the British take over the administration of the camp and the end is really in sight. The next week was the longest in history. During the night of Sunday 22nd gun fire is heard and we awake to find the Russians have arrived and we are free men – unfortunately the camp (Stalag lVB) was on the wrong side of the River Elbe. On Wednesday evening the Yanks arrive in camp – what a reception they get. Rations are very good. No complaints at all now except that we want to get away from all this. Once again, how long? Many are cheesed off by now and decide to make their own way back to our lines. On 2nd May the Yanks move out – we are due to move out the following day. Daily moves are cancelled until 1 o’clock on Sunday 6th May we march out in three’s.
(There are a few more pages to the story – getting out of Germany, a stay in Brussels, a stay in the UK, and then the return to South Africa. Much of the story revolves around the Gordon family.)
Arrive at St. Helena on Sunday 29th July at 6 in the evening. We are cheered to think that we are only 4 days from Cape Town.
if anyone recognises anyone in the photo's or has any further information please contact me.
Information and photo's supplied by Allan Gordon, Alick Gordons son.